Tuesday, December 31, 2013

And a Happy New Year! 2014

I love this photo of tiny Lily looking up at my mom... I bet she can see over that partition now...

Days like these, I'm so happy that I have a blog.... because as hard as I tried, I COULD NOT remember what life was like a year ago.  It may as well be 10 years ago. January, 2013 is a long way away in another country (well, apartment)... So, I went back and read what I wrote a year ago. I believe that one of my resolutions was to have more peace and harmony in our home. Ha! That poor woman had no idea what was coming did she? A year ago we had no thought of buying a home or moving. We certainly were not entertaining any ideas of renovating an old house in a neighborhood we'd never heard of! We were mostly concerned with Lily's night terrors and potty training. We still had baby gear.... we still had a stroller! And yesterday I was buying Lily some new clothes... in size 5T! (Daniel is wearing size Medium/10 because apparently he's starting his teen years a bit early. Just judging from the grumpiness.)
fro-luscious Lily

selfie taking post Spring haircut

Ohmygosh, it has been quite a year. The kids have certainly grown up a bunch.  There has been a whole lot LESS peace and harmony... There is a crew pounding and sawing and sanding and painting every day here. We've passed the two months without a kitchen mark. My sanity and patience, and health consciousness were abandoned by the side of the house weeks ago.  We now eat nachos for dinner twice a week. And Chinese food or pizza the other nights.
happily saying goodbye to our old apartment, and its kitchen blackboard...

The good news is, it can really only get better. So, all in all I'm looking forward to 2014.  Because sometime this year, I will have a kitchen again. And sometime this year, the kids will have a playroom. And we can do laundry at home again. And, we'll have a backyard too! Oh, what treasures await us in the coming months.
hello New House!

And I'm pretty sure we aren't moving again.

Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Kitchen tour...

Gloriously new, clean, sparkling white cabinets! 

Can. Not. Wait. To fill them up!

The best Christmas present I ever got was Daniel and Lily. We first saw their little faces on December 14, 2010. 

But having a kitchen to make them pancakes in is a close 2nd. :)

Friday, December 20, 2013

"What the heck happened to my birthday!?"

... is what I think Jesus might say if he were to visit your typical American city or town right now. A town full of blazing lights, lines, exhausted-package-laden-stressed-out folks staying up way too late to hide toy elves. (Why?!)

What the heck happened to his birthday?

I think we can all admit, whether we loathe or love this season that Christmas has gotten out of control.  I've read many smart mommies blog about the exhaustion, and the disconnect, and never ending to-do list of Christmas. Good reads: here, here, and here.

Christmas has become work. Which I'm pretty sure Jesus would not have wanted.

Christmas has become expensive. Which I'm really sure Jesus would not have wanted.

Christmas has become a time of bickering, name calling, sanctimony, hatefulness, ignorance: "WAR ON CHRISTMAS!"  Not really what the Prince of Peace talked about.

What happened!? What are doing all this FOR?  I asked myself this question the other night, as I stayed up late organizing and wrapping presents, checking and doubling checking my lists.  Christmas this year has been very different than our past celebrations. Without a kitchen, I cannot bake.  I used to bake dozens of cookies and package them in beautiful boxes with little recipe cards included for my friends and co-workers. I always made these amazing chocolate gingerbread cookies.  I'd also challenge myself to try new recipes.  I'd comb Martha Stewart Living for inspiration.

This year: no baking. No packaging, no recipe cards. We don't have room in our over-stuffed living space for a tree, and most of our decorations are still in storage.  Without my usual Christmas cheery baking, Christmas became just work.  Find some decorations and struggle to keep them up amidst construction dust and chaos.  Find some corner to hide the presents I bought online, late at night. Address Christmas cards during breaks at work.  One night I realized, I'm doing all this work to make Christmas happen, and my children are not participating at all.  Christmas will happen, but instead of celebration we make together, it is becoming a show I put on for them.

And I'm not sure they bought tickets to this particular show. Because most of what they are seeing is a stressed out mom with too many to-do lists and not enough time or patience.  It's definitely not been the most wonderful time of the year.  They don't even like Christmas music! They are learning that Christmas = Work. Which is not what I want them to learn.  (Nor do I really want to be working so hard.)

What can we do? How can we create a celebration that connects us? Connects us to the story of Jesus, or to the changing of the seasons, or to our loved ones? How can we create a season of wonder and delight that brings us closer to each other, instead of driving us crazily apart? I'm not sure. I'm working on it. We already don't do Santa. (Gasp! Read about it from last year here.) So we avoid the whole Elf thing and the letters to Santa and breakfast with Santa and photo with Santa things.

One thing I hope I learned this year is to pace myself.  I'm happy I did my Christmas shopping early and mostly online, because: Malls? December? NO.  We are also lucky in that our gift list is pretty simple.  I wish I didn't feel in a rush to get decorations and a tree and make the house festive. We really don't need to celebrate Christmas all-month-long.  We could save up some decorating and merriment for the actual holiday. I think next year I may bake cookies again, because I love to bake. But I may just make a couple of special favorites, and I'll be sure to include my kids and make a gigantic mess in the kitchen with them. And I will definitely have them participating more in the gift giving and gift preparation.  And maybe we'll give the Christmas music a rest.

oh, the adorable ghosts of Christmas past...

How do you make Christmas connected instead of frenetic?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Showing or Telling?

"Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words." - St. Francis

This quote was in a recent profile of Pope Francis I read, and it has stuck with me for days now.

Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.  Or: Live it, don't just say it. Show, don't tell.

Am I doing that, as a parent? I sure have been using lots of words lately. Loud ones, angry ones, frustrated, exasperated, had-it-up-to-here- ones.  I've also been trying out teaching words, and "lets all gather around the advent candles" words, and the 'true meaning of Christmas' words.

And I think what my children are hearing is Blah, Blah, Blah.

My son used to ask me why I didn't give to people who ask for money on the street. I didn't have the right words to explain to him then.

This Christmas season we sponsored a family in need. I bought a stranger and her children presents and wrapped them and sent them off.

My son asked me why we would do that. As in, how come you are buying presents for other people's kids!? (and not more for me, is left unsaid but implied.) Words failed me again, because I was so shocked that my normally generous son was talking so selfishly.

Then I remembered his pre-Christmas and pre-birthday stress. How he is convinced that we will not get him the presents that he wanted. That we will fail him. He does not trust us. He does not trust the world. Any why should he? The world failed him once before.

How many more years until he learns to trust again? Maybe only God knows...

It has been a hard Fall. I almost missed the signs of our pre-Christmas stress because of the months of buying-selling-packing-moving-unpacking-renovating stress.

My children have seen me lose my temper, pour too many glasses of wine, throw things in frustration (packing tape!) answer shortly, sigh loudly, cut corners (microwaved nachos for dinner again guys!) and in general, preach a gospel of be-quiet- this-is-all-too-hard-why-don't-you-just-hurry-up-and-go-to-bed-already!

Which is not really what I set out to do as a mother.

Christmas is coming, and the kids will open up a pile of presents and the house will get messier than ever. But then the New Year will arrive to. And with it, some space. Some time. Some blank pages on the calendar and an end to the renovations and the moving.  I will no longer need to spend 3 afternoons a week shopping at Home Depot or picking out tiles. (oh, thank Heaven!)

These days, it seems, that even more than a kitchen back I want myself back.  I want to preach the Gospel of "I love you kiddos".

And if necessary, I'll use words.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

We need a little Christmas...

right this very minute!

This weekend I decided we really, really needed a little Christmas. The children were revolting at my musical selections. (They are not fans of Holiday Hits.)  Advent candle lighting was marred by a lack of matches and also a time out for (yelling? hitting? pushing? I can't remember. Something un-sacred)  I was starting to wish it would just be January already.  Our Christmas boxes are, of course, hidden away behind our construction site/basement. And probably covered with dust and (ohmygod please not!) maybe crushed beneath a pile of debris.


I sat down and cut out a pile of snowflakes. It actually started snowing outside while I worked. Big, fat slow flakes falling out the window.  Just exactly like a Christmas card.

I hung up all the paper flakes in our newly installed, but not quite finished and framed windows (ohmygoodness it is DRAFTY in this house right now!)  A single garland of white lights and viola! Christmas!

It may be drafty. It may be dusty. It may be that we are STILL eating off of paper plates* and eating lots of take out. But, we are trying for hope and peace and light.

Come, Christmas, come.

* Every time I complain about our current renovations I think almost immediately of how lucky and blessed we are to have a safe home and food to eat and money to throw away spend on making our house the way we want it.  It's a vicious little mental hamster wheel I'm running on: "Ugh! renovation is so stressful! Shut up you are luckier than most people silly woman! Ugh! WHEN?! is my new kitchen going to be done! shut up... " and on and on.  Really I need to step off the wheel because it is. going. nowhere.

Come, Christmas. Come.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Madiba. Uncle, Beloved one.

During my Junior year of college I studied abroad in Durban, South Africa. It was 1997. South Africa had been a free country for just three years. The infamous yellow trucks that had mowed people down during the apartheid resistance were decommissioned, but they sat in municipal lots on the outskirts of town. Seeing those big yellow trucks rusting in a yard of weeds is one of my first memories of my four months in the Beloved Country.

South Africa in the 90's was an intense and heady place to be. Here was history, here was revolution. Hope, survival, violence- everything at once a thousand fold.  It was like being at the signing of the Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation at once. As a 20 year old student I drank it in like water. I loved every minute of my time there, and my time there changed me and influenced the course of my life for the better. 

One day near Easter our group of students was invited to a funeral. A funeral to bury the remains of some missing apartheid resistance fighters whose bodies had recently been found. It is important to know that during Apartheid gatherings of Black South Africans were banned. Funerals were one of the rare exceptions.  So, during the 70's and 80's funerals became political protests. Someone would be killed during a protest, and his or her funeral would become a political protest... Which led to more arrests and violence and deaths and funerals... 

So here we are, a bunch of young Americans at a political funeral. In a soccer stadium. We arrived early. Hundreds of people came, then more hundreds. Thousands of people filled this stadium, stands and field. One thing I had learned from riding the buses in South Africa: there is always more room. I thought the stadium was full; yet still more people came. Surging, squeezing, singing... We stood pressed against each other in the center of the field under the full African sun.

Another thing I had learned about African culture: you do not stand in the presence of someone greater than you. 

The crowd in the stadium sang and grew and waited in the sun.

And Nelson Mandela arrived. 

And the crowd sat.

We sat, because we must sit for him, even if we are pressed together and there is not a inch of room between us.

Which is how I ended up sitting in the center of a soccer stadium under the African sun with an older Zulu woman sitting in my lap. A beautiful, kind woman with whom I spent the afternoon singing and dancing and crying. 
And I had never been happier. Madiba (as he is known in South Africa, by his family honorific), took his place on the stage along with dozens of notable people whose names 15+ years of time have erased from my mind. There were speeches; there was cheering and singing.  There was dancing. Mandela was a terrible dancer! He stood on the stage and danced with his arms akimbo and stiff... The Zulu ladies we sat with laughed and cried with joy. The love that radiated from his people to him... It is indescribable. I was a young white American student in a soccer stadium filled with thousands of Black South Africans and I don't remember a moment of fear. Only love: blinding, pure, exuberant Love.

Later a few hundred of us went to the burial.  The President, Madiba, stood just feet from me, surrounded by armed guards. One of my fellow students took a photo of him, which I kept framed in my room for many years.

My time in South Africa cemented a life-long love of Africa. Which was one of the reasons that we decided to adopt from Ethiopia. Which is how I came to be Daniel and Lily's mommy. An honor that I feel many days I have yet to live up to.

Thank you, Madiba, for your beautiful life. Thank you for inspiring so much love. Thank you for fostering so much hope in Africa. 16 years ago I stood a few feet from you for a few minutes.  I waited in the sun; I sang and danced with strangers and was blessed to be in the presence of greatness.  Somewhere those beautiful kind Zulu ladies are mourning. They are wailing and singing praises to you. Maybe they are also remembering their afternoon in the sun. Perhaps their lives were also changed. You inspired so many. Thank you.